Episode 39 News: You Want Curly Fries With That?

“Is this a game or is it real?” WarGames, may have been a 1983 Cold War-era teen movie, but computer-assisted attacks 30 years later are certainly very real. James R. Clapper Jr., the US director of national intelligence, made his annual presentation to the Senate Intelligence Committee this week and listed “cyberattacks” at the top of his threat list for the first time. Recent hack attacks attributed to the Chinese are a sore point in the relations between China and the US, and the White House demanded earlier this week that the Chinese government stop its local hackers from breaking into American networks and stealing data. The Chinese government has denied involvement is such activity but said it is open to discussions about international cybersecurity.

Down in Austin at the interactive part of the South By Southwest festival, 3D printing and intelligent devices got good exposure, as did Leap Motion’s $80 3D motion sensor device for controlling the computer through hand and finger gestures. At least one reporter attending the show noted that the live appearance of the famous Internet meme, Grumpy Cat, overshadowed many of the actual technology announcements. Still, this year’s show had speeches by Bill Gates and others and there were a few items of note. Marvel Comics announced new and expanded mobile and online offerings and Google also had some revelations about its Project Glass augmented reality spectacles, which are expected to arrive later this year for about $1500 a pair. (The Google glasses can take pictures and record video, which has caused some people to have privacy concerns already, and a bar in Seattle has already banned the high-tech headsets from the establishment.)

In Mars news, NASA held a press conference this week to discuss findings from the Curiosity rover’s recent rock-drilling adventure. According to scientists, ancient Mars could have supported living microbes. Life! On Mars! (But not Life on Mars, alas.)

TiVo has released the TiVo Mini, launched a $100 miniature version of its set-top box, designed to let users watch content stored on the home’s main TiVo DVR. You also need to have one of the four-tuner TiVo DVR models in the house and pay a subscription fee.

The launch of SimCity 5 last week was highly anticipated – but ultimately frustrating for many world builders who rushed online to play but couldn’t do anything thanks to crashing games and overloaded servers. SimCity 5, which has no offline mode, has seen disgruntled fans posting message of unhappiness on the game’s Amazon page, online forums and other places, lamenting the lost of their time, fun and $60. But in happier gaming news, Mike Mika, a game-developer dad, made his three-year-old daughter a very happy girl by hacking the old Donkey Kong ROM and changing it so she could play as Pauline and save Mario. The mod took just a few days and Mr. Mika tells his story on Wired.com, which is definitely worth a read for anybody who admires insanely cool dads.

The past week saw several new developments around the techsphere. Researchers at the California Institute of Technology say they’ve created self-healing processors that can repair themselves, even after being blasted by lasers. (Did they name the processor the “T-1000?”) International Data Corp analysts predict shipments of Apple’s iPad this year will fall behind those running Google’s Android system for the first time. And Facebook showed off a revamped look for its News Feed last week, featuring bigger photos and a cleaner design that reminded some of Google+.

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And finally, also in Facebook news, researchers at Cambridge University have created algorithms that use a person’s Facebook “Likes” to predict that person’s religion, politics, race and sexual orientation. The results of the study were published on the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) journal. According to a story on the BBC’s Web site, the researchers found some strange results as well: “Curly fries correlated with high intelligence and people who liked the Dark Knight tended to have fewer Facebook friends,” said research author David Stillwell. And yes, privacy advocates have something to say on the topic, too!

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